Tupelo council not sold on hiring in-house attorney

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Tupelo StockBy Robbie Ward/Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mayor Jason Shelton has more convincing to do if he wants Tupelo’s city council to approve two new city positions for an in-house legal team.

Along with skepticism toward hiring a city attorney and support staff, council members had many questions Wednesday during its first budget meeting. The main focus was Shelton’s idea of using a single attorney instead of contracting with an entire law firm.

Council members had concerns about rising personnel costs, when a job description could be available, how a single attorney could handle the workload and assurance that the attorney wouldn’t show bias toward the mayor.

“I know you’re an attorney and you’ve got this tunnel vision, but you’ve got to sell Mike Bryan on it,” Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan told the mayor during the meeting. “I’m afraid this could hinder or slow down progress.”

Shelton proposed the in-house city attorney as a way to save money and transition away from a contract with a law firm handling the city’s legal affairs.

At times, exchanges between council members and the mayor seemed a little testy. The firm Mitchell McNutt & Sams has represented the city for 36 of the last 40 years. City records show annual spending on legal fees with the law firm ranges from about $300,000 to $400,000, not including legal expenses related to Tupelo’s annexation court battle that ended last year.
Shelton, an attorney, plans to have the new attorney make $90,000 annually. He also wants to add a paralegal/secretary, which likely could be filled by an existing employee.

“My only concern is when you start adding personnel costs, it just sort of grows,” said Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington. “Is that the best thing to do for the city?”

Shelton said many duties handled by the law firm could be handled by a single attorney. However, if there is more work than one person can handle, Shelton said the city could continue working with an outside law firm.
“As I stated twice already, I intend to have an outside counsel for any overflow or outside counsel needed,” Shelton said.

The mayor also said city prosecutor Richard Babb would assist with overflow work.

City Council members, Shelton and city department heads will meet at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday to continue discussing the budget, required by state law to be approved by Sept. 15.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com

  • DoctorKevorkian

    Sounds like the old blue bloods are pulling out all stops to get to the city council about not making this much-needed and overdue change. The shelton kid is going to really look like a putz if he can’t push his first initiative through. Never underestimate the power and determination of the old farts in tupelo–holding us back for 40 years now!

  • TupeloRob

    Hey city council – Shelton is an attorney! This is probably something he knows about so maybe you should listen to him. Shelton probably saw what the city was paying that law firm and thought it was outrageous for what the city is getting. Good for him for being willing to change things up for the better.

  • tupeloboyz

    It looks looks like it is the “Blue Bloods vs. the New Blood” here in Tupelo. The McNutt firm must have called an emergency meeting out at the country club with Mike Bryan and Markel Whittington to try and keep their $400,000 per year cash cow that they have by being attorney for the City.

    Never underestimate what the Blue Bloods around here can get done behind the scenes. For example, a couple of local car dealers just got the council to shoot down CarMax coming to town and investing millions of dollars. Was that in the best interest of Tupelo?

    If it costs $200K per year to have an in house legal department, we the taxpayers save $200K per year over what we spend now. Is there really any question about the in house counsel being the right move?

    Stick to your guns on this issue Mayor Shelton. If you can’t get this no brainer issue passed by the council, it may be a long four years.